Henry “Hank” Aaron, the baseball Hall of Famer who joined Scouting as a boy and continued to support the movement throughout his life, died on Friday. He was 86.
Hammerin’ Hank is often incorrectly regarded as an Eagle Scout, but he was a Scout as a boy growing up in Alabama. His troop met at the Ebenezer AME Zion Church in Toulminville, Ala.
“I was a Boy Scout, and I was a very good Boy Scout. I knew all my Scout Laws,” he told the crowd at an Atlanta Area Council event in 2016. “I had some great thrills, but one of them is being a Boy Scout.”
Aaron’s dad encouraged him to join Scouting but told him he wasn’t able to buy him a pair of long uniform pants, so Aaron saved up to buy them himself. He also remembers donning his uniform and a whistle to join other “good Boy Scouts” who had the privilege of directing traffic in downtown Mobile, Ala.
Growing up, Aaron idolized Jackie Robinson and dreamed of playing baseball. With no team at his high school, he joined a semipro club. After a brief time in the Negro Leagues, Aaron was signed by Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Braves and made his professional debut in 1954.
For as carefree as Aaron appeared hitting home runs or catching fly balls on the baseball field, his life outside the stadium was rarely easy. He faced troubling racism from fans at both home and away games, with the tensions ramping up as he neared the all-time home run record.
In March 1972, Aaron appeared on the cover of Boys’ Life magazine, which wrote about his chase for Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs. In the mold of a true Scout, Aaron told the magazine that he’s more concerned with winning than hitting balls out of the park.
“I don’t play for statistics,” he said. “I play for championships. If I had 713 home runs on the last day of the season and a bunt would win the game, I’d bunt.”
Aaron did break the record two years later. He finished his career with 755 home runs — a record he held for 33 years before it was surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007.
Shortly after retirement from baseball, Aaron appeared (in Scout uniform) in a public service announcement for the BSA. The ad’s target was adults, inviting them to form Scout troops in their communities.
“When you help start a Scout troop, there’s no guarantee that one of the boys will grow up to hit 755 home runs,” Aaron says in the ad. “But you never know.”
In 1984, in recognition of Aaron’s service to Scouting and our nation, the BSA presented him with the Silver Buffalo Award, its highest honor for adults.
“I had fun being a Boy Scout,” Aaron said in 2016. “Every Tuesday or Wednesday, I used to go to the meetings and sit there with my Scoutmaster, and he and I used to talk, talk, talk.”